Under pressure, Iran admits it shot down jetliner by mistake
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — In the face of mounting evidence, Iran on Saturday acknowledged that it shot down the Ukrainian jetliner by accident, killing all 176 people aboard. The admission by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard undermined the credibility of information provided by senior officials, who for three days had adamantly dismissed allegations of a missile strike as Western propaganda.
It also raised a host of new questions, such as why Iran did not shut down its international airport or airspace on Wednesday when it was bracing for the U.S. to retaliate for a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. No one was hurt in that attack, carried out in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad.
Iran’s acknowledgment alters the narrative around its confrontation with the U.S. in a way that could anger the Iranian public. Iran had promised harsh revenge after Soleimani’s death, but instead of killing American soldiers, its forces downed a civilian plane in which most passengers were Iranian.
On Saturday night, hundreds gathered at universities in Tehran to protest the government’s late acknowledgement of the plane being shot down. They demanded officials involved in the missile attack be removed from their positions and tried. Police broke up the demonstrations.
President Donald Trump tweeted messages of support to Iranians who back protests of the government, saying he and his administration are behind them. In the tweets, Trump called on the Iranian government to allow human rights groups to monitor the protests and expressed support for the “brave, long-suffering people” of Iran.
On the brink: Swing county tense as Trump tangles with Iran
MONROE, Mich. (AP) — He flipped anxiously between news stations, bracing for an announcement of bombs falling and troops boarding planes destined for the Middle East. It was a nightmare he hoped he would never see again.
Michael Ingram’s son, Michael Jr., died in Afghanistan in 2010 at age 23. Every day since, Ingram has prayed for American presidents to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring every last soldier home. Instead, it seemed to him this week that the United States was edging perilously close to another one.
The highest-stakes week of President Donald Trump’s administration, when a standoff with Iran pushed the countries to the brink of war, was felt most viscerally by people like Ingram and in places such as Monroe. This blue-collar corner of southeast Michigan has buried young soldiers at a rate higher than in most other places of the country. Here, matters of war and peace are deeply personal.
They may also be politically important come November. Monroe is a swing county in a swing state, part of a cluster of Rust Belt communities along the border of Ohio and Michigan that voted for Democrat Barack Obama but then flipped to help put Trump in the White House in 2016. Its assessment of his performance as commander in chief could decide whether he stays there next year.
Conversations with people here, including many with veterans and military families, reveal how complex that assessment is. Trump’s campaign promise to stop the “endless wars” resonated with many, but so did his pledge to answer aggression with relentless strength. Trump supporters in Monroe say they are not against military action. They just want to win and win quickly. They said they trust Trump will.
Iran standoff shines spotlight on new Trump security adviser
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a defining week for President Donald Trump on the world stage, national security adviser Robert O’Brien was a constant presence at the president’s side as the U.S. edged to the brink of war with Iran and back again.
The contrasts with O’Brien’s predecessor along the way — in secret consultations at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, in the Oval Office and in basement deliberations in the White House Situation Room — could not have been more stark.
While former national security adviser John Bolton spent decades as a conservative iconoclast in the public arena, O’Brien is far from a household name. While Bolton had strong opinions he shared loudly in the Oval Office, O’Brien has worked to establish an amiable relationship with Trump. And while Bolton’s trademark mustache was a target of Trump’s mockery, the president is drawn to O’Brien’s low-key California vibe and style.
“Right out of central casting,” Trump says of O’Brien.
For all the differences between the two men, though, O’Brien ended up signing off on the same course of action that Bolton had long endorsed: a strike to take out Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani. The decision drew retaliatory missile strikes from Tehran.
‘Fail Not:’ What to watch ahead of Trump’s Senate trial
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hear ye, hear ye: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hitting the send button on President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
That’s after she paused the whole constitutional matter, producing a three-week standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and complicating the campaigning picture for the five Democratic senators in the White House race.
By Friday, three weeks before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, what leverage Pelosi, D-Calif., had possessed was in question.
She wanted McConnell to allow witnesses and documents. He answered that those decisions would be made later — by the Republican-controlled Senate, not anyone in the Democratic-run House. With 51 votes for that plan, McConnell never budged. Yet it now appears at least a few Republicans are open to witness testimony once the trial begins.
Here’s what to watch as the impeachment charges make their slow-motion journey to the Senate this week.
Firefighter dies as Australia works on long-term battle plan
BURRAGATE, Australia (AP) — A firefighter was killed by a falling tree while b attling the Australian wildfire crisis overnight and the prime minister on Sunday said his government was adapting and building resilience to the fire danger posed by climate change.
Bill Slade — one of the few professionals among mainly volunteer brigades battling blazes across southeast Australia — died on Saturday near Omeo in eastern Victoria state, Forest Fire Management Victoria Executive Director Chris Hardman said.
The 60-year-old married father of two was in November commended for 40 years service with the forestry agency.
“Although we do have enormous experience in identifying hazardous trees, sometimes these tree failures can’t be predicted,” Hardman said. “Working on the fire ground in a forest environment is a dynamic, high-risk environment and it carries with it significant risk.”
The tragedy brings the death toll to at least 27 people in a crisis that has destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area larger than the U.S. state of Indiana since September. Four of the casualties were firefighters.
Magnitude 5.9 shock again rocks quake-stunned Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A magnitude 5.9 quake shook Puerto Rico on Saturday, causing millions of dollars of damage along the island’s southern coast, where previous recent quakes have toppled homes and schools.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the 8:54 a.m. (1254 GMT) quake hit 8 miles (13 kilometers) southeast of Guanica at a shallow depth of 3 miles (5 kilometers). It was followed by several aftershocks, including a magnitude 5.2 temblor less than two minutes later.
No injuries or deaths were reported, officials said.
Saturday’s quake occurred four days after a 6.4 magnitude quake in the same area and amid a spate of more than 1,200 mostly small quakes over the past 15 days, all at shallow depths.
Gov. Wanda Vazquez estimated damage from Tuesday’s earthquake at $110 million, with a total of 559 structures affected. She said her administration was immediately releasing $2 million to six of the most affected municipalities.
Storms sweep southern US, Midwest as death toll rises to 11
HOUSTON (AP) — Severe storms sweeping across southern portions of the U.S. and up into the Midwest were blamed Saturday in the deaths of at least 11 people, including two first responders, as high winds, tornadoes and unrelenting rain battered large swaths of the country.
Storm-related fatalities were reported in Texas due to icy weather, in Alabama from a deadly tornado and in Louisiana, where winds were so strong that a trailer home was lifted off its foundation and carried several hundred feet. A man drowned in Oklahoma and the storms even touched the Midwest with at least one death on an icy highway in Iowa. Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power from Texas to Ohio, parts of highways were closed in Oklahoma and Arkansas due to flooding and hundreds of flights were canceled at Chicago’s international airports.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of emergency to assist crews working to restore power around the state.
Two first responders were killed and another was critically injured in Lubbock, Texas, Saturday morning after they were hit by a vehicle while working the scene of a traffic accident in icy conditions, officials said.
Police Officer Nicholas Reyna, 27, who had been with the department for one year, died at the scene. Firefighter Lt. David Hill, 39, was taken to a local hospital where he later died. Firefighter Matthew Dawson, 30, was hospitalized in critical condition.
AP Analysis: New questions rise as Iran says it downed plane
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s acknowledgement that it shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, raises new challenges for the Islamic Republic both externally amid tensions with the U.S. and internally as it deals with growing discontent from its people.
The country did itself no favors by having its air-crash investigators, government officials and diplomats deny for days that a missile downed the flight, though a commander said Saturday that he had raised that possibility to his superiors as early as Wednesday, the day of the crash.
While its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard took responsibility, the same commander claimed it warned Tehran to close off its airspace amid fears of U.S. retaliation over Iran launching ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces. That retaliation never came, but the worries proved to be enough to allegedly scare a missile battery into opening fire on the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines.
Wider tensions between Iran and the U.S., inflamed after Iran’s top general was killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike Jan. 3, have for the moment calmed. However, President Donald Trump vowed to impose new sanctions on Tehran and on Friday, his administration targeted Iran’s metals industry, a major employer. Meanwhile, thousands of additional U.S. forces remain in the Mideast atop of the network of American bases surrounding Iran, despite Tehran’s demands the U.S. leave the region.
That sets the stage for Iran’s further steps away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from in May 2018 over his concerns it didn’t go far enough in restraining Tehran. Iran said after the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani that it would no longer abide by any of its limits, while saying United Nations inspectors could continue their work.
New year, new headache for queen with Harry and Meghan rift
LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II ended 2019 with a public plea for global harmony after a rocky year. She’s starting 2020 trying to heal disharmony within her own family after Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, decided to “step back” as senior royals —- and announced the news without consulting the monarch.
As the British media went into meltdown, the royal matriarch moved quickly to take back control, summoning her son and heir Prince Charles and grandsons Prince William and Harry to a crisis meeting to sort things out. Elizabeth, who assumed the throne in 1952, has weathered family crises before, and is determined not to let her restless grandson and granddaughter-in-law weaken the House of Windsor or undermine the monarchy.
After initial talks between courtiers to the senior royals over the couple’s unorthodox declaration of independence, Buckingham Palace said Saturday that the queen would meet Monday at her Sandringham estate in eastern England with Charles, William and Harry to agree on “next steps.””
The palace said “a range of possibilities” was on the table, but the queen was determined to resolve the situation within “days not weeks.”
Harry’s next scheduled public appearance is a rugby event at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. Meghan, meanwhile, has flown to Canada, where the couple and their 8-month-old son, Archie, spent a six-week Christmas break. They announced this week they plan to “balance” their time between the U.K. and North America, with Canada their likely base. Meghan is American but lived in Toronto for several years while filming the TV show “Suits.”
49ers win 1st playoff game in 6 years, 27-10 over Vikings
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Richard Sherman anticipated the route for an interception and then watched the San Francisco 49ers run eight straight times for the touchdown that put them in control of their first playoff game in six years.
The dominant defense and powerful running game that carried the Niners to an 8-0 start this season delivered a 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round Saturday.
“People keep disrespecting us. At the end of the day, all you can do is go out and execute,” Sherman said. “It felt good. That’s what we look like when we’re totally healthy.”
The return of injured defensive starters Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt had the Niners (14-3) playing as they did in the first half of the season as they set a franchise playoff record by allowing only 147 yards.
Jimmy Garoppolo threw a TD pass on his opening drive as a playoff starter and then mostly watched his defense and running game take over from there. The top-seeded 49ers turned a pair of second-half turnovers by Minnesota (11-7) into 10 points.